On Nuclear Power

Foreign experience in nuclear power should be carefully examined. I submit that we need to understand both successes and failures of others in order to profit from them.

China recently installed several (4?) new nuclear reactors. They were on time and under budget. They were CANDU reactors. They were not the new, experimental, to-be-developed oh-so-improved CANDU reactors that we might insist on building; they were the existing, tested-design CANDU reactors.

The reactor that failed in Japan was 40 years old. It had been scheduled to be decommissioned and got a last minute license extension. It was made by General Electric. It was under maintenance at the time and all the fuel rods were in the cooling pool, not just the spent ones. Thus the exceptionally large disaster when loss of cooling occurred.

The French once were willing to recycle spent nuclear fuel from other countries. I believe this has been stopped, partly due to unwillingness to ship the material, and partly because it is not practical to recycle larger quantities than they themselves produce. There is a Wikipedia item on this here.

The problem with nuclear power plants is twofold:

  • Innovative designs generally overrun both cost and time estimates.
  • Reactor byproducts are dangerous long after power generation.

Reprocessing does not solve the second problem; it does make it possible for spent fuel to help pay for itself by generating more usable material which can be used to generate more power.

The first problem should be seen as a provocation: either do a research project and expect cost and time overruns, or build the reactor you already know how to construct and run, in a predictable manner.

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